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Black Bloc and Occupy Oakland

affinis's picture

[UPDATE From the comments, I understand that black bloc tactics are the subject of "intense discussion" in Oakland, and so they should be. It would be helpful if somebody would find and post twitter feeds/reporting/transcripts of these discussions so we can get some unfiltered notion of what's going on. Readers? Clue stick to violence/vandalism proponents: A child of six knows that the 1% are violent, and that the police can be violent, too. So, please go explain that to a child of five, mkay? The issue is how tactics bring the Occupations success, and the burden is on violence/vandalism advocates to show how that happens. --lambert]

I agree with Lambert's comment in his Occupy Oakland posting - it feels that we're reaching some sort of inflection point. In regard to this - the topic of black bloc involvement in Occupy Oakland leaves me feeling increasingly disturbed. Black bloc may be less peripheral than I'd earlier assumed.

It appears that the vast majority of people partipitating in Occupy Oakland events comdemn the black block actions. Tens of thousand participated in the demonstrations (I've seen estimates ranging from 7000 to over 40,000 participants). The most common estimate for the number of black bloc people involved is only about 200 - obviously, a tiny minority.

But there appears to actually be a serious split among the core occupiers and in the general assembly regarding black bloc and use of violence/vandalism. I suppose this is not necessarily surprising. It makes sense that people who are able/willing to indefinately camp out under difficult conditions and constant threat of police raid, and those who are able/willing to consistently attend long GA meetings, may have different demographics and more radicalized beliefs than people who are more sporadically involved. I've seen this at prior occupations I've been involved with (e.g. the 1985 WI Capitol apartheid-divestment occupation comes to mind).

It seems that a large fraction of the Occupy Oakland GA attendees are unwilling to renounce violence/vandalism as a tactic. I don't think this reflects the majority of attendees (many are passionately opposed to black bloc tactics), but it's apparently not a small minority either. See the feed from Friday's Occupy Oakland GA - scroll to about the 32:30 mark for the speakers dicussing this, and listen to the crowd reponse. Also, here's a posting from a GA attendee summarizing discussion of this topic.

On Thursday, people from the Occupy Oakland media committe released a statement comdemning the vandalism/violence. I think this contributed to a sharp positive shift in the tone of media coverage later on Thursday. However, the actions of the media working group led to heated internal arguments at the OO camp, and another statement was released Thursday night that they could not take an official positions until Friday's GA. AP article:
"On Thursday afternoon, representatives from the Occupy Oakland media committee read a statement saying participants supported the goal of reclaiming empty buildings to serve the public but regretted that their daylong downtown demonstration was marred by an 'autonomous' group. 'It is unfortunate that the unprecedented mobilization and engagement of tens of thousands of our neighborhood in this beautiful Oakland city should be marred by broken windows and graffiti,' Laura Long said, reading the statement. 'Occupy Oakland does not advocate violence and has no interest in supporting actions that endanger the community and possibilities that it has worked to build.' The group released a statement Thursday night saying it doesn't support vandalism but would not take an official position until Friday's night 'General Assembly' meeting."

However, Friday's GA did not repudiate the black bloc tactics. Also, apparently previous proposals at OO GA meetings to renounce violence/vandalism have been rejected.

From postings by OO participants at various sites/forums, several lines of thought seem to be contributing to tolerance of black bloc. I see a lot of posts arguing that destruction of property is not violence - and this position seems common among certain anarchists, even if they're not actively in agreement with use of black bloc tactics currently. Some are arguing that since this movement is nascent, now is not the time for violence since it would alienate the mainstream - but that they would support its use once events have advanced sufficiently. Others more fundamentally disagree with the use of violence/vandalism, but are not willing to oppose/condemn black bloc since
that would be siding with the "enemy" over other protesters. I also see a lot of condemnation of those who intervened to stop black bloc vandalism on Wednesday (e.g. at Whole Foods) - they're being referred to as "peace police", and there seems to be particularly strong anger against those who tried to physically restrain or physically block the black bloc individuals (even some commenters who appear relatively unsupportive of black bloc are condemning "peace police" actions as coercive and as failing to respect "diversity of tactics").

Some of the proposals passed at previous OO GA meetings seem to have opened the door to the events of early Thursday morning. See here for a list of decisions passed as of October 31. Number 4 on the list is "diversity of tactics".
For example, during marches: when confronted by police, some people may want to attempt to have calm conversations with them, urging them to be non-violent. some people may want to sit down in front of lines of police. some people may want to express their anger by yelling at the police. some people may want to attempt to remove police barriers. some people may want to disrupt traffic or banks. some people may prefer to remain on the sidewalk. We should be tolerant of each other’s approaches and respect different forms of protest, while being aware of our privilege or lack of it, especially when engaging with the police.

A common argument made by black bloc supporters (in Oakland and at prior demonstrations in Europe and Canada) is that trying to prevent/stop/condemn black bloc actions is failing to respect "diversity of tactics". A particularly good discussion of "diversity of tactics" in the context of OWS can be found here. Yet another interesting essay on this topic "is meant to undermine the notion that 'respecting diversity of tactics' should be the default position. Instead, I assert that the default position should be to regard every tactic with a critical eye in order to determine whether it effectively attains our goals."

Other relevant Oakland GA decisions include "Encourage autonomous actions":
In order to keep the GA from being bogged down, and in order to allow for diversity of tactics, actions other than major events (like the General Strike) should be announced as actions rather than brought forward as proposals to be voted on.
And also "Declaration of Solidarity with Neighborhood Reclamations":
Occupy Oakland, in solidarity with the Occupy movement and with the local community, has established the principle of claiming for open use the open space that has been kept from us. We are committed to helping this practice continue and grow. Here in Oakland, thousands of buildings owned by city, banks, and corporations stand idle and abandoned. At the same time social services such as child and healthcare, education, libraries and community spaces are being defunded and eliminated. Occupy Oakland supports the efforts of people in all Oakland neighborhoods to reclaim abandoned properties for use to meet their own immediate needs. Such spaces are already being occupied and squatted unofficially by the dispossessed, the marginalized, by many of the very people who have joined together here in Oscar Grant Plaza to make this a powerful and diverse movement. We commit to providing political and material support to neighborhood reclamations, and supporting them in the face of eviction threats or police harassment. In solidarity with the global occupation movement, we encourage the transformation of abandoned spaces into resource centers toward meeting urgent community needs that the current economic system cannot and
will not provide.

Some have argued that the occupation of the Traveler's Aid Society building was an improper action, since it wasn't specifically approved at the Oakland GA. However, though it seems to have been poorly planned/executed, the GA decisions noted above seem to provide all authorization needed.

The level of involvment of black bloc in the building occupation is unclear to me. A reporter noted that many of the people entering the building were dressed in black and wearing bandanas. However, that isn't what I saw in video from inside the building (at least when the video was made, few of the occupiers were dressed in black and I didn't notice any wearing bandanas). By all accounts, it seems that those who built the barricades outside (and later set fire to them) were black bloc. Here's a psuedonymous account written by people who appear to be at least affiliated with black bloc (though theire exact relationship is not clear). Also, here's a video of black bloc types scuffling with a protester who's trying to extinguish the barricade fires.

Multiple accounts seem to indicate that the "Anti-Capitalist" march that vandalized Whole Foods and other buildings earlier in the day was led by a group of black bloc, and that they may have been primary organizers of that march. Though it also appears that few of the ~1500 people originally participating in that march were aware of this (and some in the march tried to stop the vandalism and divert the march). One anarchist (apparently sympathetic to black bloc) described events thus:
"the march at which the vandalism took place was a specifically anarchist anti capitalist march. There were other marches scheduled for the peace police, but they tried to coopt the anarchist march (led by a 60 person black bloc) with their message of peace and non violence. I was frustrated with the calls to forcibly unmask the black bloc and anyone engaging in vandalism and with the level of violence the 'nonviolent' contingent was perpetrating against the property destroyers. I was back on the sidelines observing yesterday and I couldn't believe the shit the peace police were saying."

One interesting posting I saw (among other things, it implies some possibility of engagement with the black bloc) was the following:
Vico: "Now, I have been something of an anarchist myself. I regularly attend the Bay Area anarchist book fair at the county fair building in Golden Gate Park. This is arguably the most important anarchist event of the year on the West Coast. As an activist, I have worked with the Anarchist Black Bloc at events over the past 12 years. I have been present for negotiations between the Black Bloc and other ad hoc coalition members at more than one protest. The subject was usually regarding whether or not property destruction was a sound protest tactic.
In the past, at every protest meeting I have been to, the Black Bloc has agreed to not participate in property destruction during the peaceful large protest - so that the public does not get a mixed message. Also, I have never seen or heard of an anarchist attacking a fellow protester, as we see happen several times on these videos. They might attack police but not other protesters en mass. Even if this has happened before, it seems highly unlikely that it would happen multiple times within just a few minutes.
It is true that anarchists do participate in property destruction as a tactic. However, they generally agree to not do this at peaceful protests. Also, it is impossible for me to believe that so many anarchists would violently attack other protestors. Maybe one or two, but this many does not seem right. In my experience this would be totally out of character. Also, anarchists that I have known may support property destruction as a useful tactic but are on the whole nonviolent."

I've looked about pretty extensively online to find any examples of approaches that proved successful in dealing with black bloc (in Europe, Canada, or the U.S.). Essentially, I found nothing. Sometimes (as Vico notes above), extended dialogue can dissuade them from disrupting otherwise peaceful demonstrations. Though this seems to be difficult given their typical vanguardist thinking and intractability.

Sometimes, if their numbers are small and there's an overwhelming concensus among other protesters to keep things peaceful, and a willingness to confront black bloc members, they will back down. But the latter tactic often only works at a specific time and location - black bloc will continue vandalism/violence at the event at another location or time, where the ratio is shifted in their favor. It seems that's basically what happened in Oakland. Though the images and statements of other protesters challenging, preventing, and denouncing black bloc actions (and assisting in the cleanup) seems to have somewhat ameliorated the damage to the public's perceptions of Occupy. If anyone is aware of any approaches that have worked empirically (in diminishing/neutralizing/dissuading black bloc), it would be great to hear about this.

A few weeks ago, George Lakoff argued for a "moral framing" of Occupy (and I can't state my agreement strongly enough). Vandalism/violence eviscerates that possibility. As Tatiana stated in a posting on the events of Thusday morning:
"We can only win against their limp morality, their shriveled integrity, and their flaccid principles. And we win by being morally strong, impeccable in our integrity and holding fast to wise and courageous principles of service and compassion. Service to the community. We win by expressing our morality, integrity and principles with clarity and grace."

I've seen many people arguing that property damage (smashing windows, etc.) is not violence, since people aren't directly injured. I remember internally debating the "does property damage = violence" question when I was a young activist. At this point, my reaction is just - spare me the BS rationalization.
As commenter Bobobo says:
"I mean, they’re arguing over the notion that breaking someone’s window is not a violent action because a window is not a person, and thus has no feelings, and so cannot even begin to articulate its own breaking, let alone perceive such a thing as violence. That is just a semantic game that ignores the fact that the reason the window is there in the first place is that people are in the world, and some of them own a window that they really need to have, and others recognize this fact and so perceive the breaking of someone else’s property to be very similar to assaulting that person themselves because it undermines their livelihood and drains resources, and so feel upset when they see people breaking other people’s windows."

When someone's window is broken, they feel DISTRESS and FEAR. Emotional pain is still pain - it's still injury. (And I actually do believe the line "An injury to one is an injury to all"). Someone has to clean up the mess. Breaking windows and looting art from an art gallery collective means that someone (who is probably not rich) is losing livelihood. People have to replace stuff that's been destroyed (and may not be able to afford to). The provocation of cops means that a lot of innocent people get arrested, beaten, and injured. And even though Oakland police seem to habitually exaggerate what was thrown at them, there are credible accounts from protesters that at least some M80s were thrown - don't tell me that an M80 can't cause serious injury. And sparks and flaming debris from the types of fires that were set can fairly readily set roof shingles on fire (that's how fires often spread from one building to another).

Yes, on the topic of property destruction, one can quibble about certain details. By several accounts, some black bloc folks were at the forefront of dismanting the fence that had been set up to prevent reoccupation of Frank Ogawa plaza. But few would really consider this property destruction. Personally, given the right circumstances, I wouldn't condemn the Earth First tactic of putting abrasive in the lubricating oil of heavy machinery that's about to be used to raze an ancient Sequoia forest. But that's a far different cry from stupid "symbolic" random destruction (smashing of windows, damaging storefronts, setting of fires, etc.) that harms average people.

I should mention that I think it is likely that none of the violence would have happened were it not for police actions in Oakland (events starting with the camp raid). For Wednesay/Thursday, OPD again made a call for assistance to neighboring police departments and a massive raid was mounted on the occupied Traveler's Aid building. When hundreds of police clad in riot gear made their appearance in the nighborhood, barricades were built, and events devolved. OPD actions just continue to radicalize and inflame, increasing the appeal of black bloc and fostering an intractible situation. And perhaps not everyone has heard about the second Iraq War veteran injured by OPD - arrested while walking home, severely beaten, spleen ruptured, and kept incarcerated while in agony with no adequate medical attention for a day.

Bungalowkitchens - I'd love on-the-ground commentary from you, or from others you know in Oakland, about attitutes (vis-a-vis black bloc) in the Occupy Oakland camp and GA.

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ChePasa's picture
Submitted by ChePasa on

regarding Diversity of Tactics in Vancouver during the Olympics, for others, it might be a useful intro to some of the concepts involved, and the intensity of the arguments for and against Black Bloc tactics: "Diversity of Opinions" "Derrick O'Keefe" "Harsha Walia" "Rebuttal and Questions" "Audience Questions and Comments"

The issue is not going to go away.

Interestingly -- perhaps even illuminatingly -- the OPD seemed to be far more in tuned with "Diversity of Tactics", and far more understanding of the autonomous nature of the Black Bloc, than many of the demonstrators on Strike Day were. That doesn't mean that police infiltrators were responsible for the vandalism, however.

I think it is obvious that the opposition to the OWS Movement is ratcheting up the violence against the demonstrations and the demonstrators nation-wide in what could well be a futile attempt to control it.

Direct police violence is being supplemented by the fact that some drivers are now running down OWS related demonstrators with impunity. It is a sign of where the repression is headed. And it has nothing to do with Black Bloc.

The fact that Occupy Oakland will not renounce Black Bloc tactics is instructive. I honestly don't see why they should be expected to renounce them. Considering the increasing violence of the opposition to the Movement, Black Bloc tactics are mild. As long as it is understood that a) Black Bloc is not the definition of the OWS Movement or of Anarchism; and B) Black Bloc is autonomous, what they do should be seen for what it is rather than as a "sign" of some sort that the Movement is turning violent. It isn't. It won't. Relax.

Bay Area media was surprisingly clear about these things. Not so for what I saw of the national media, but so what? This Movement is not being defined by the media.

People involved with it are the definers of the Movement.

Regardless of how Occupy Oakland and the Movement in general eventually handle Black Bloc tactics, the violent repression of the Movement will continue to ratchet up. That violence will not be stopped by renunciation or suppression of Black Bloc.

Cujo359's picture
Submitted by Cujo359 on

The WTO protests in Seattle back in '99 were turned into riots by these guys. The cops couldn't or wouldn't stop them early on, and eventually they just clamped down on the whole protest. Whether you view anarchists' actions as the provocation or just an excuse, it prompted the violence that followed.

Destroying things that people will want to protect is violence in the same way that a boulder at the top of a hill is kinetic energy. It's certainly true, as Mao Tse Tung once said, that to be able to destroy a thing is to be able to control it, but once you've destroyed it, that control is gone, and in its place is usually anger and resentment.

Submitted by lambert on

... in another guise.

Violence is on the evil side; vandalism is on the stupid side. If you want "all walks of life" involved, then smashing a Whole Foods window isn't the way to go about it (though I guess it does throw some work to the window repair guy).

What I don't understand is the fires. What was the point?

I also don't understand why the violence this time, when in the past the Black Bloc had kept things separate.

It would also be nice to know how the European summer Occupations handled these issues; I don't recall anything like this in Puerta del Sol but I may have missed it.

Also, Che Pasa, do you have anything in written form? Videos are time consuming and hard to link to...

Thanks for thoughts and great links.

ChePasa's picture
Submitted by ChePasa on

the intensity of disagreement within the movement over the merit and value of Black Bloc tactics. Views differ. Strongly.

But there are plenty of written resources:

And of course:

You may have seen this already:

Like nearly everyone else, the writer conflates Black Bloc with "anarchists" as if there is no diversity of approach within the anarchist framework. What would he do if he knew that many of the avowedly non-violent OO activists are Anarchists, proud and defiant?

Black Bloc tactics were used in Oakland in essence because it's Oakland. Very wide and deep radical tradition there. Some of the more radical participants in my local Occupation left here to go join the Oakland Occupation because it was much more congenial to their principles, principles which might sometimes include Black Bloc tactics. Or might not.

I honestly don't understand the public horror at the vandalism; it is so minor compared to the real tragedies playing out each and every day as people's lives and hopes are destroyed by an utterly indifferent Overclass, and as the nature of the repression against the OWS Movement becomes more and more brutal.

THAT is the real violence, against which a few broken windows and some graffiti hardly registers. That people are so much more upset by the vandalism than they are by the catastrophes that are engulfing their neighbors and maybe even themselves shows just how strong the conditioning against rising up has been in this country.

Submitted by lambert on

I'm one of the lucky ones; the statistics are only going to take only 4 or 5 years off my lifespan. And I have spent a good deal of time outside the middle class at various stages of my life. It's irrelevant in any case. Just because somebody else does it, it's right for me to do? So, skipping.

* * *

What the black bloc in Oakland just did is make it harder for Occupy Portland, Occupy Augusta, and Occupy Bangor to get adherents; Maine is an extractive economy, we suffer greatly from poverty and injustice in every form. Maine is also a small, tightly knit, and sociologically conservative (not socially conservative) state where politeness and civility really are valued. So forget about the vandalism/violence distinction; in the eyes of the people of this State they're the same (maybe because w're so poor a broken window is something you think twice about replacing; I know I do). What the black bloc did is make it harder for every Occupier to leave the camp and talk to their friends, neighbors, and relatives. From my standpoint, that's not helpful. Of course, a revolutionary vanguard has its decisions to make. But if that is indeed the dynamic.... The history of the 20th century is littered with bodies that revolutionary vanguards had a great deal to do with heaping up.

ChePasa's picture
Submitted by ChePasa on

when nothing is done to change their situation? You can have all the adherents in the world -- but the question is what is being done to change their situation for the better?

I don't buy the argument that their situation cannot be changed for the better if there is any hint of misbehavior by anyone even remotely associated with the Movement anywhere. It's that kind of thinking that keeps all of us mired in ineffective wheel spinning, while conditions all around us are getting worse and worse.

The issue of Black Bloc tactics has been roiling for many years and it will continue for many years to come. We're not going to resolve it here. The people in Oakland are actually addressing the issue -- and many others -- as we sit in front of our computer screens.

I get the fact that you don't approve of Black Bloc tactics. Nor do lots of people. Is there some reason why Black Bloc tactics used in Oakland, California, by an autonomous group, during an otherwise peaceful and very successful day of strikes and demonstrations, has anything at all to do with what happens at any other Occupation? If Occupations in distant Maine are so confounded by the actions of an autonomous group in far away California that they can no longer address local issues and people, indeed, are so confounded by what happened in Oakland that they can't even function, then I'd argue that the Occupiers in Maine would do well to check themselves and the connections they have -- or more likely don't have -- with their own communities.

If somebody breaking a window in Oakland, California, has that profound an influence on whether or not Occupiers in Maine can even talk to people they supposedly know, in some cases people they have known all their lives, then don't you think the problem in Maine runs much, much deeper than any discussion of Black Bloc can possibly address?

Submitted by lambert on

I would think it's obvious that "we sit at our keyboards" -- as I notice you, too, are doing, despite the well-worn trope* -- is to determine exactly whether actions taken in Oakland can injure those in Maine. You write:

don't you think the problem in Maine runs much, much deeper than any discussion of Black Bloc can possibly address?

Yes, that's probably true. By many measures, the state of Maine is worse off than many, many other places in the United States, for all I know including Oakland. Rural poverty and medical care issues are terrible.

I explained why Black Block tactics make Occupiers work in Maine harder. Are you saying people in Maine don't count? Are you saying that if they're worse off than, say, Oakland, then the Oakland Occcupiers should write them off? If not, what are you saying?

NOTE Computer Science Bumper Sticker: "Furious Activity is no substitute for understanding."

ChePasa's picture
Submitted by ChePasa on

Repression of the OWS Movement is being ratcheted up. Black Bloc has nothing to do with that. Repression is institutionalized.

That was true in Seattle in 1999, too.

Submitted by lambert on

.... is to get as many as possible involved ("all walks of life"). If somebody could explain to me how black bloc tactics achieve that, I'd be grateful.

And if one believes that non-violence is a strategic asset (note this is a pragmatic argument, not a values-based argument) than the black bloc in Oakland almost managed to piss away a lot of good will on the on the balance sheet, including the blood of two veterans injured by the police.

Most of the other alternatives I can see involve fighting the 1% on their own ground, and becoming so much like them in tactics and thought that there's no reason to be involved (see numerous examples from the 20th C). The "meet the new boss" scenario.

I'd keep my head down, but of course, it's already been raised.

UPDATE Here's an example of what concerns me:

The Whole Foods security guards pack heat, and I’m asthmatic. If they started shooting in response to the attack, the wiry guy breaking the window can get two blocks away in the time it takes me to run to the 7/11 across the street… and god help me in the event of tear gas.

Looks to me like one guy could die because another guy decided to flex his ego. So maybe the asthmatic should stay home. That helps how?

ChePasa's picture
Submitted by ChePasa on

strongly -- on the value and merits of Black Bloc tactics.

Black Bloc tactics are not used nor are they appropriate in every situation. It may have been a mistake to use them in Oakland on Strike Day, but maybe not.

I don't agree that OO pissed away whatever good will it has acquired (which I would argue was zero among the powers that be) because of the vandalism.

The OWS Movement -- and Occupy Oakland in particular now -- is a threat to those powers. Repression is a priority. There will be increasingly violent repression of the Movement regardless of whether Black Bloc tactics are employed or not.

Running down demonstrators in Oakland and DC -- and releasing the drivers from culpability -- reminds me a lot of the Tsar's tactics against the peaceful demonstrators in Petersburg. Bloomberg had his horse police run down demonstrators -- who had no way to escape -- during the RNC festivities in 2004.

These are real acts of violence. The brutality of the crackdowns against Occupations is increasing everywhere -- even where there are no Black Bloc tactics to rag on and denounce and blame for the brutality.

There was no Black Bloc activity in Oakland the morning and the night of October 25/26, either.

Eventually, the conditioning that causes such widespread horror and rejection of the minor vandalism caused by Black Bloc tactics will have to be broken through.

There is real violence going on.

Black Bloc tactics aren't it.

Submitted by lambert on

There's no good will there to be sought. I don't care about that. I do care about splitting the police (which is not the same as the grotesque mischaracteriziation that "the police are our friends").

But the Occupations do need the good will, I would argue, of "all walks of life." As in Argentina, we need the grandmothers. I don't think the grandmothers would turn a hair at seizing a building. I do think they'd think twice about vandalism especially when it comes from "their" side.

So, Che Pasa, you write:

the conditioning that causes such widespread horror and rejection of the minor vandalism caused by Black Bloc tactics will have to be broken through.

Some questions:

1. Are you saying that the best way to eliminate fear and horror is to repeat the acts that create fear and horror? Why? Do you have examples?

2. For the specific acts of "minor vandalism" in Oakland, do you believe they advanced or retarded the Occupations, and if so, why?

3. Why is it important to break down "conditioning" -- assuming, for the sake of the argument, that we aren't talking of fully moral agents, here -- for the sake of vandalism? Why is that the tactic of choice? There are surely many tactics that, to be employed, must break down condition; Lysistratic Nonaction, for example. So why are you privileging vandalism?

UPDATE I try to write carefully, and wrote that the Black Bloc:

almost managed to piss away a lot of good will on the on the balance sheet, including the blood of two veterans injured by the police.

You responded:

I don't agree that OO pissed away whatever good will it has acquired (which I would argue was zero among the powers that be) because of the vandalism.

You're disagreeing with not one but two claims I didn't make. Reading carefully helps with on-point responses.

ChePasa's picture
Submitted by ChePasa on

First, my argument is nothing like what you state, but for the sake of discussion, let's look at it this way:

1) Conditioning against (some) lawbreaking in this country is so powerful that apparently some observers believe that the people who were run down by drivers in Oakland and Washington DC "deserved it" because they were either in the way or might have been breaking some law. Besides, windows were broken in Oakland on November 2, 2011, so we can't concern ourselves with anything else.

2) I can only describe what I've seen, read, and witnessed. There is an intense discussion under way in Oakland and elsewhere in California about the merits of the Black Bloc tactics employed in Oakland on November 2, 2011, tactics that resulted in 18 or so broken windows, considerable graffiti, and other vandalism, the temporary "liberation" of a vacant building, and a number of trash fires in the streets, as well as a police reaction that included tear gas, "non-lethal" projectiles, the severe beating and injury of yet another veteran, and numerous arrests of people who by and large had nothing to do with the vandalism. Many of those who are discussing what went on are outraged and mortified by the Black Bloc tactics that were employed in Oakland, and they are very forceful in their denunciations. Many others are far more mortified and outraged by the consistent official overreaction to the uppitiness of the proles and they see what happened as a way to expose just how wildly out of whack the ruling class and its system of control is. This discussion has been going on in various ways, in various places for decades, and it is likely to continue indefinitely. I believe it is a valuable discussion to have. I don't believe it can be resolved in favor of one "side" or the other. But the tension between them may lead to positive progress. It's happened from time to time in our lifetimes.

3) "Diversity of Tactics" doesn't just mean vandalism, and I've offered many links that get into the meaning(s) of the term. Vandalism is one tactic of many. I am not "privileging" or defending vandalism, I have been trying to put the vandalism that took place in Oakland in perspective -- and I think I've done a pretty good job of it. There are other tactics. They are being employed. Extensively.

Windows were broken, paint was sprayed, fires were lit, and a building was briefly taken over. The police did their thing. Some people were injured in the process.

In addition, there was a successful general strike in Oakland and a major US port was shut down temporarily.

Occupy Oakland has become the center of energy for the whole OWS Movement -- at least for the time being -- and how they handle the Black Bloc tactics in the future may become the model for such things in this country for some time to come. Nobody is required to adopt Black Bloc tactics regardless of how Occupy Oakland handles the issue.

I've been as clear as I can be.

Submitted by Lex on

Windows were broken, paint was sprayed, fires were lit, and a building was briefly taken over. The police did their thing. Some people were injured in the process.

And that pretty much describes any weekday night in any major city in America (along with a great many more smaller cities). Yet, when it happens in the context of protests it becomes newsworthy and something we all discuss.

I guess pointless violence is just a fact of life, but once it becomes pointed there are societal concerns that arise from it.

Submitted by lambert on

I'm going to openly show that I haven't mastered the sources by quoting Wikipedia:

A black bloc is a tactic for protests and marches, whereby individuals wear black clothing, scarves, ski masks, motorcycle helmets with padding or other face-concealing items and often carry some sort of shields and truncheons.[1][2] The clothing is used to avoid being identified, and to, theoretically, appear as one large mass, promoting solidarity [Ooh! Uniforms!].

"The Black Bloc" is sometimes incorrectly reported as being the name of a specific anarchist group. It is, rather, a tactic that may be adopted by groups of various motivations and methods.[3]

Police and security services have infiltrated black blocs with undercover officers. Since all members conceal their identities, it is harder to recognize infiltrators. Allegations first surfaced after several demonstrations. At the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa, amongst the many complaints about the police [21] there was mention of video footage in which "men in black were seen getting out of police vans near protest marches."[22] In August 2007, Quebec police admitted that "their officers disguised themselves as demonstrators." On these occasions, some were identified by genuine protesters because of their police-issue footwear.[23][24]

The nice thing about the GA doing everything out in the open... Was that there was nothing to hide.

UPDATE On the "No true Scotsman..." front (pre-emptive response) Montana Maven linked to this site. Quote the first:

Bad apple section- added “We’ll have to put an end to the systems, identities, and relations imposed on all of us since birth, so that we can finally create our lives in the joyous revolutionary possibilities that arise from continuous struggle against all forms of domination.”

Somehow, I have the feeling that's not going to end well.
Quote the second:

Break the law- new paragraph with the intention of more fully critiquing nonviolence “We face a system that controls our lives by forcefully aligning them to its miserable terms, whose prisons lock up anyone who acts on their desires for autonomy and freedom by disrupting the reproduction of power and the economy. There is nothing in this world currently deserving the name peace; from governments carpet bombing villages and police torturing people, to the daily coercion of living under the rule of power maintained by the threat of prison. ‘Violence’ is just a moral category, a meaningless term used to control our struggles which pretends to be able to compare the incomparable. It equates the state’s domination to acts of revolt like destroying commodities, defending yourself from police, fighting to free prisoners, and indigenous people taking back stolen land. It should be clear that legalistic pacifism only makes movements obedient, harmless, and delusional.”

Hmmm. "Just a moral category"?

So, this on the one hand. On the other, the GA process is a product of the same milieu. No? Things aren't clear cut. The Framers, after all, were also either slaveholders or one degree of separation from slaveholders. The designers of sovereign systems, quelle surprise, turn out to be human. Chiaroscuro is the normals state of the human heart and human affairs...

ChePasa's picture
Submitted by ChePasa on

that has nothing at all to do with Black Block tactics:

Man in Oakland, shot with "rubber bullet" for... being there?

Submitted by lambert on

Can you link to somebody on this thread who is saying it did?

affinis's picture
Submitted by affinis on

Actually, I will argue that saying it had nothing to do with black bloc tactics may be overly simplistic. The claim that the "video speaks for itself" is essentially an appeal to emotion - the video presents us with a violent act perpetrated against an innocent (excruciating to watch). But the video, taken early on Nov 3, is shorn from the context of prior events that morning. And the black bloc actions were a major contributor to creating that context. A couple people who were present at the building occupation (and I don't know how representative their viewpoints are) write that their expection was that occupiers would simply be arrested for trespassing (or under analogous charges; people inside were committed to likely being arrested - and those not willing to be arrested had been asked to leave), but the barricades, fires, objects throw, etc. (deployement of black bloc tactics outside) led to a wholly different outcome (and apparently those inside then fled the building). And that context contributed to police herding protesters toward the square and surrounding it (that's where the video was taken - I would guess that it's at the north end, where a bunch of innocent people were arrested and where it was reported that rubber bullets were sporadically being fired). I also think that the fires would not have been set, etc. if the police had not deployed hundreds of cops in riot gear for a raid on the building. And probably none of the violence that's occurred in the last couple weeks would have happened were it not for the police raid on the camp and subsequent police brutality. But the deployment of black block tactics simply escalates the situation - and it's not clear to me that events would have played out as they did on Nov 3 if black bloc tactics hadn't been deployed (at least some at the Traveler's Aid building believe that events would have gone differently). A lot of protesters who were not involved in black bloc tactics (including many who did not support them) took the brunt of the police response. And that's exactly what's often happened where black bloc tactics have been used (see Genoa, Rome, Toronto, etc.). As noted by Duhamel & Martin: "An underlying assumption is that peaceful protesters will be ‘politicized’ by provoking police into responding to violence with violence. This arrogant position not only places nonviolent demonstrators at risk, it leads to alienation and a weakening of the social change movement."

Submitted by lambert on

So what? I make the argument that Black Block vandalism in Oakland was tactically stupid, since it could drive people away from the Occupations who would otherwise participate.* So your response is to say that there are even worse. How does that make the vandalism any less stupid? "That's blue." "There are other things that are green."

And where on earth is there a work of media that "speaks for itself"? Dear Lord.

NOTE * I'm assuming that is not the goal. Am I right?

Submitted by Lex on

Non-violence as a tactic, seriously used is quite difficult. Let's not forget how brutalized Civil Rights marchers were, nor what it took to walk with Gandhi. (Ian does a good treatment of this.)

I'm not at all sure that anyone in the US, including the Occupy protesters, are really willing to use non-violence, er, violently. When those tear gas cannisters go off, how many are going to stand their ground? The rubber bullets and flash bangs?

I don't know what the right way to proceed for these protesters is, nor would i feel confident preaching at them about tactics since i'm not there. I do know that a radical(ish) left isn't possible in the US currently because the mainstream left makes it impossible ... because the mainstream left consists mostly of conditioned Democrats who only know how to prove that they're more Reaganesque than radical.

I find it more than a little disturbing if that process is going to show up in the Occupy protest movement. Again, Ian makes a good point. You show the serious radicals and say, "Do you want to negotiate with us, or them?" Fuck, the GOP knows this game and makes a political living on it.

And the fuck i'm going to weep for Whole Foods. That place stands for just about everything i hate about the modern, American left. Anti-union for one. For two, it's selling the stupid, stupid, stupid idea that we can all be green and wonderful if we just buy well-packaged, "organic" products from well-marketed venues. Sure, everything can still be in season and if you don't look to closely your conscious will be eased to the point where you can feel superior to your fellow man. Don't worry, you don't have to think about the fact that your "organic" produce was kept that way by a Mexican being paid starvation wages to run a propane weed burner instead of a farmer spreading herbicides. We just won't discuss how that "organic" produce got here from its foreign point of origin or how federal law has it all fumigated with insecticides and fungicides on entry anyway. Never mind that "free range" chickens, by definition only need "access" to the outdoors. If there's not food and water out there, they won't bother.

Bah, i'd rather people vandalize the Whole Foods than the GOP party headquarters; it's the ideals behind the former that sold us all out while pretending to be our champions and preening in its "goodness."

Submitted by lambert on

... though not for the local art gallery, collateral damage.

That said, last I checked I wasn't getting funding from a Washington DC think tank. I'm poking at political arguments and I keep finding holes in them. What I'd really like to know is how the vandalism helps the Occupations in my state (see other comments) which, I might add, I am also doing. If people could, like, address the points I keep raising instead of ranting or posting videos that have no value add because they show what we all already know, I would be grateful.

So, we should go for vandalism instead of non-violence because non-violence is hard? What kind of argument is that?

Submitted by Lex on

What will be normal and perhaps appropriate in Maine is not going to be the same as in Oakland. And since there is no over-arching leadership in this movement, everyone will probably have to get used to different tactics.

I don't see how activities of a minority in Oakland have much effect on what happens in Maine unless people in Maine let it. And it's like Ian said, you say, "Who do you want to deal with? There are us rational talkers or those anonymous smashers."

Read what i said about nonviolence again. Protesting and then running from the cops when they toss the tear gas is not a nonviolent protest in the sense of using nonviolence as a tactic. On brass tacks, black bloc violence is the much easier avenue. And i didn't say that anyone should go for violence or nonviolence. I was pretty clear that i'm not involved enough to know, and it ain't my ass on the line so i'm not going to preach.

None-the-less, Gandhi didn't occupy the beach until the British let him have the salt. He said, "I'm gonna." They said, "No, you're not." And then thousands of people walked straight into all the violence the Raj could dish out. That was on purpose, and it had a very high cost. King marched people into firehoses in the same manner.

So i could poke some holes in the Occupy notion of nonviolent protest, because it - mostly seems - to be as much about avoiding confrontation as anything...except in Oakland, which apparently mars everyone else involved by the actions of a handful. Even though it's Oakland where the protests are actually shutting things down, going out for the confrontation and doing it remarkably well given the difficulty of controlling really large groups of angry people.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Makes people feel good, like driving a Prius and listening to NPR. That describes most of my "liberal" friends. Nice people who go on and on about the awful GOP and that awful Herman Cain. That's where they place all their rage. Meanwhile, Whole Foods CEO targets fat employees. And didn't he call having a union is like having herpes? Ick.

It's very exciting that we are actually talking about tactics and are able to use words like anarchism and socialism again. It's exciting to talk about occupying abandoned buildings and squatters' rights. It's exciting talking about what is "lawful". Interesting times. At last.

affinis's picture
Submitted by affinis on

Yes, the non-violent path is difficult. But that is precisely its power - its ability to inspire, to shift public opinion and force change. This (the inherent opposition between power and violence) is the grounding behind the Hannah Arendt's assertion that violence is a tool of the weak. Arendt's claim should not be interpreted in a blindly absolutist fashion. But the reason authorities deploy violence against peaceful demonstrators (in the India independence struggle, civil rights, Occupy, etc.) is precisely because their powerlessness is exposed when people withdraw their consent and refuse to abide by the demands of authority. Non-violent resistance, especially in the face of violence, carries with it a visceral, contagious message: I am not bound by fear; one can refuse to be cowed and to comply. Responding with violence is often exactly what authorities want - returning to territory they're familiar with, and where they have an inherent advantage. There's a reason why authorities so very often resort to deploying provocatuers (it's exactly the same reason Patrick Howley, an editor of the right-wing American Spectator, acted as a provocateur at an Occupy-related protest in D.C.). Smashing a window or throwing a rock, then scurrying away from the police line (which is what the black blocers were doing in Oakland) instead converys a message of weakness.

With respect to "I'm not at all sure that anyone in the US including the Occupy protesters, are really willing to use non-violence when confronted with violence by the authorities". Well, perhaps many currently in the struggle would not. But I certainly know people who would be willing (and have done so in the past). The willingness of so many to do so in the civil-rights struggle certainly demonstrates that the capacity for this exists in the U.S.

Submitted by Lex on

Elsewhere in this thread i've written that the black bloc style tactics are easier than non-violent protest.

No doubt the Civil Rights protesters were capable of it, but i don't know how much that proves that modern, mostly white protesters in America are capable...and really, willing is the better word. Let's be realistic: the issue set that led black Americans into the streets to demand their rights is quite a bit different than what the majority of Occupy protesters have ever experienced.

IMO, the Occupy movement is much more analogous to the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries than either the movement of Gandhi or King. That's probably too subtle a difference for most to consider meaningful, but i'm not so sure.

In any case, and as i've also said elsewhere in this thread, non-violent protest is also not setting up a camp or a march and then willingly being arrested without resisting. It's not trying to have a semi-friendly relationship with the police, or using them to police your ranks (and that accusation has certainly been leveled at OWS). It has historically been quite confrontational, and it requires taking the violence and oppression with a certain degree of stoicism to be effective.

Egypt is considered non-violent, but there were running battles using ancient warfare techniques. Also, without Gandhi and King, those movements showed that the violence was right beneath the surface being held in check by ideals that were more powerful. I'm not convinced that Occupy even has those ideals, which will make long-term non-violence quite difficult in the face of continued and increasing police violence.

Submitted by lambert on

His view:

Smashing some bank windows doesn't seem like such a terrible thing to me, and seizing an abandoned building seems brilliant.

Agreed on seizing the abandoned building. But if the fires and the window smashing make it harder for people in Portland, Augusta, and Bangor -- and I'm betting the other flyover states -- to seize their abandoned buldings, and they will, then the fires and smashing were stupid. And self-indulgent. That's the point I keep making. Yes, I know the state is repressive.....

NOTE Oh, and we've still left the asthamatic gasping in the tear gas....

Submitted by hipparchia on

when you were a little kid your parents lectured you on how temper tantrums were self-indulgence, and when you were a teenager they lectured you on how riding around the neighborhood on friday night bashing in people's mailboxes with a baseball bat just for the lulz was self-indulgence, amiright? :)

camping out in parks and holding hours-long general assemblies strikes me as even more self-indulgent than does breaking some windows and building bonfires.

Submitted by lambert on

And no, I don't go around smashing things for the lulz, no. Do you? Why or why not? Do unto others, eh?

* * *

I don't think the GA is self-indulgent at all. If you are open to the idea that representative democracy as we know it is utterly broken, then it makes sense to try something new, which is exactly what the GAs are about. Ditto the Spokes Councils, for that matter.

Submitted by hipparchia on

in a fit of temper.... you are asserting, basically, that this is the real reason why people engage in black bloc tactics, and denying then possibility that people might really be making measured calculations when they decide to commit vandalism.

you've made some other unsupported assertions in this thread [though to be fair, i haven't yet read all the way through, so maybe they haven't remained unsupported].

black bloc tactics in oakland, california make it harder to organize people 3000 miles away in bangor, maine. well, yeah, this seems so totally self-evident. otoh, have you actually seen a fall-off in the occupations in your area since the brouhaha in oakland?

black bloc activities [in general] will discourage people [in general] from joining the occupy movement. something else that seems self-evident, but that you haven't actually demonstrated to be true.


I don't think the GA is self-indulgent at all. If you are open to the idea that representative democracy as we know it is utterly broken, then it makes sense to try something new, which is exactly what the GAs are about. Ditto the Spokes Councils, for that matter.

the wisconsin capitol occupation [how long ago that seems now!] disrupted a dysfunctional legislature [#123]. the oakland occupation called for [and got, to some extent] a general strike, disrupting some major economic activity [#117] [#119].

yes, the idea of building, from scratch, an alternative society that only a relative few can join strikes me as much more self-indulgent than smashing a few windows in an attempt [possibly misguided] to put the overlords on notice that we're all mad as hell and not taking it any more.

Submitted by Lex on

No argument about whether the smashing and burning were self-indulgent. However, once anyone starts seizing buildings and making a real nuisance of themselves to the powers-that-be, there's going to be violence.

Look at the third clause of your signature, Lambert. They're going to fight you whether someone in Oakland lights a barricade on fire or not, and they're going to do it with the full force of the State's monopoly on violence. That's when people will have to make a choice: give up, fight back, or face that violence with a strength of will that's almost superhuman.

Submitted by lambert on

It's amazing the number of comments that non-violence advocates get about the capacity of the state for violence. Why the lecture? It takes forever, and its off point. Water is wet, ya know? Last I checked, Ghandi and MLK and the Egyptians were fully aware of this idea, and for some crazy reason decided not to fight on the ground the elite had prepared using tactics where they would have been inherently outgunned.

Submitted by Lex on

I'm not arguing for violence, not at all. I'm just saying that it doesn't matter whether someone in Oakland breaks a window. When you're trouble to the State, it will fight you and do so violently. It's not a lecture, except that i'm getting the strong feeling that American non-violence advocates might be living in a fantasy world where if they're just peaceful enough, the State will see their point. I guess i don't hear the lectures from non-violence advocates about how much violence one must be willing to absorb for the tactic to work.

Also, didn't you write a post about how interesting it was to watch the Egyptians fight the police using the tools and techniques of ancient warfare? Sure, it was in self defense, but Egypt wasn't perfectly non-violent. And i'm going to go back to my point again, nonviolent protest is designed to provoke violent response (or assumes it will). That is not what the Occupy movement is doing, nor is it responding to violence in the manner that Gandhi and King did.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

200/20,000 = 1% too, apparently this also scales and is independent of purpose or rationalization.

What's sad is that, like the US government establishment, the OO establishment is not outright disowning violence. Although at this point OO hasn't necessarily embraced violence (and vandalism like breaking windows and looting art stores, or burning fires as symbolism meant to intimidate are violence), it is respecting it as a "diverse tactic".

Baby steps.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on
The revolution begins by asking: what sort of
promises do free men and women make to one another, and how,
by making them, do we begin to make another world?

It is to revive our imaginations that have been put in boxes. We have been told TINA - there is no alternative. But there is. And we begin by organizing "festivals of resistance."
Love that.

affinis's picture
Submitted by affinis on

In case anyone's interested - here's an Oakland blacK bloc agitprop video. Not quite up to the level of Leni Riefenstahl, but pretty slick.

affinis's picture
Submitted by affinis on

On the topic of "Diversity of Tactics", I'm including here a few passages from an essay by Duhamel & Martin:
"The seduction of Diversity of Tactics lies in its promise to bring under one unified umbrella the many different approaches to social change. The idea that all of us should stick together across petty tactical differences is enticing. The need for unity is common sense. However, the Diversity of Tactics concept stretches this logic so that 'a diversity' comes to mean 'any'. Most people would agree that 'a diversity of foods' is good for us, but it’s obviously false to claim that 'any food' is good for us. There is clearly a difference between healthy foods and toxic food, just as there is a difference between tactics that build broad support for a campaign, and tactics that lead to loss of credibility, injuries, and death.

Violence weakens the social change movement

The Diversity of Tactics concept allows and condones tactics such as those of the Black Bloc, which has historically included the wearing of hoods and masks to conceal identities, physical fights with the police, using sticks and weapons, throwing rocks, paint bombs, billiard balls and other projectiles, breaking windows, smashing cars and media vehicles, and firebombing....

A basic principle of Diversity of Tactics is to not exclude or criticize any action, so even abusive tactics such as physical assault are allowed. Respect for a Diversity of Tactics attempts to bring people 'in line' with the idea that violent tactics should be allowed, protected and defended by all protesters and organizations, whatever the cost.

But the ultimate effect of violent tactics such as rock-throwing, bombings, or assassinations is clear and well documented. In this society, a group that chooses violence, chooses to marginalize itself. Widely rejected tactics such as fire bombings or window-smashing not only lead to mass arrests, but also result in a loss of credibility and public support. Some high-profile examples include the Front de Libération du Québec, the Weather Underground, the Rote Armee Fraktion, or the Squamish Five.

At its root, Diversity of Tactics rejects any collective constraint on individual behaviour. Ironically, this mimics the very ideology it purports to fight — the capitalist belief in 'rugged individualism' and 'every man for himself'. It echoes the neo-liberal belief in freedom from all regulation. It is individualism run amok."

Duhamel & Martin go on to advocate use, instead, of a modified principle: "A Diveristy of Nonviolent Tactics".

affinis's picture
Submitted by affinis on

The term "radical" in the graph above actually means "violent", as in using violent tactics (i.e. the term should not be misinterpreted as meaning politically radical).

This is a graph from an analysis looking at participation in popular movements where only nonviolent tactics were used versus predominantly nonviolent campaigns that contained a flank using violence. The number of people that ended up participating in purely nonviolent campaigns is far higher. Analyses also suggest that there's a trend toward reduced success in campaigns that develop a violent flank (though the difference is not statistically significant, probably because the relatively low number of campaigns included in the analysis provided insufficient statistical power). Campaigns that remain entirely nonviolent in the face of violence from authorites (as opposed to those that develop a violent flank in response to violence from authorities) also appear to generate more democratic outcomes.

My primary point here is that empirically, deployment of black bloc tactics will reduce mass participation in and support for Occupy. And that's essentially consistent with a comment here at Corrente from Oaklander bungalowkitchens on Saturday: "I'm getting drowned in emails from the neighborhood listserv (I live a couple miles east of downtown), which could pretty much be summed up in this sentiment from one of them: 'Anarchists can go to hell!' So at least among people in my neighborhood, the take is that these people are hurting the cause....they are definitely a fringe element and I think most people are disgusted with their tactics." (for full comment see link).

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

MLK's Civil Rights movement? Maybe, but didn't it benefit from threats of violence from other factions like Malcolm X and the Black Panthers? I wonder if it is those factions that make the non-violent movement so popular. Would MLK's protests have been as popular without the potential alternative of violent uprising? Moving the questions to OWS, do you get the occupation of the port without the participation of radicals who may also be more comfortable with the breaking of windows and other more confrontational tactics? In other words, is it a coincidence that the Occupy locale that has inflicted the most economic damage is also the one that appears to have a fairly decent sized radical wing?

Also, what is "non-violent"? Why is vandalism when it's breaking windows considered to be violence, but when it's breaking in and occupying the Travel Aid building, also vandalism, non-violence?

I'm not trying to start a fight here, especially since I'm not even sure what I think about these issues, but I think it's important to understand what the definitions of these things are, especially when shown charts like that.

Personally, I can't think of an entirely non-violent movement with the possible exception of the gay rights movement (which had Stonewall, but was still mostly peaceful) or the women's rights movement, but these are different, IMO, for a lot of reasons than what OWS is trying to accomplish. They also are still not done after decades/centuries and arguably the last few decades have actually seen the women's movement lose ground.

Which brings me to my other questions, how much popular support is needed to change the system? Is there a point where you have too much popular support, that is, where so many people are participating it limits the kinds of changes you can make to minor reforms? Is popular support enough? There's plenty of evidence that the elite don't care what we think.

I don't expect you to have the answers to these questions, I just think these issues are very complicated and I tend to agree with Che Pasa that they aren't going to be resolved any time soon.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

That's a flawed analogy on many levels. First, the BP movement started and grew* after, the Watts riots and subsequent riots across the entire US, and in response to a perceived failure of MLK's tactics of non-violence. Plus, MLK himself specifically rejected the violence of the BP party including at the initial sanitation workers march. MLK did not even tacitly condone that 'have your cake and eat it too' approach, nor did he accept them as partners in his movement. If the Occupy movement wants to follow that lead, they would need to specifically reject Black Bloc tactics and the Black Bloc as a "partner".

The greater civil rights movement may, or may not, have been helped by the threat of violence, but the Civil Rights Act passed before violence was at all associated with the civil rights movement. Actually, I'm not sure what concrete advance for racial equality someone could point to after the Watts riots, maybe Affirmative Action? This is not to discount the intangible advances of the Black Power movement, which took a more 'nuanced' view toward violence, just to point out that the non-violent MLK movement didn't ride, or drag behind it, violent coattails.

* in Oakland, interestingly.

nasrudin's picture
Submitted by nasrudin on

From the 4 April 1967 "Revolution of Values" speech at Riverside, NYC, as he's laying out the reasons for "breaking silence":

"My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years -- especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.” – MLK

Via Jesse at nakedcapitalism

nasrudin's picture
Submitted by nasrudin on

-- a smaller part of the previous quote.
Worth saying twice, certainly. =]

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

He realized he couldn't speak against their violence without speaking against the violence of the state first, so he spoke against the violence of the state AND their violence.

And he did it right there in that passage! He didn't shut up about their violence, he addresses their concerns to deflect their justification.

Thinking he is somehow hamstrung in his non-violence by their Vietnam War self-apologia (the state does it, we must too) misses his entire point.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

which is why I'm reading as much as I can about past movements jump into the fray. Some more David Graeber:

The real problem such movements face is that they always
get taken by surprise by the speed of their initial success.
We are never prepared for victory. It throws us into confusion.
We start fighting each other. The government invariably
responds by some sort of military adventurism
overseas. The ratcheting of repression and appeals to nationalism
that inevitably accompanies a new round of war
mobilization then plays into the hands of authoritarians
on every side of the political spectrum. As a result, by the
time the full impact of our initial victory becomes clear,
we’re usually too busy feeling like failures to even notice it.

He then goes on to use the anti-Nuke movement as an example.

1) Short-Term Goals: to block construction of the particular
nuclear plant in question (Seabrook, Diablo Canyon…)
2) Medium-Term Goals: to block construction of all new
nuclear plants, delegitimize the very idea of nuclear power
and begin moving towards conservation and green power,
and legitimate new forms of non-violent resistance and
feminist-inspired direct democracy
3) Long-Term Goals: (at least for the more radical elements)
smash the state and destroy capitalism

The short term goals were not reached. The nuclear plants already being built all went on line. But idea of nuclear power was delegitimized and no more plants built.
The anti-capitalists were hoping to make the connection between nuclear power and capitalism but never got the chance. TPTB quickly shut down that debate by having the big utility companies embrace green power.

The inevitable result was a series of heated strategic debates.
It’s impossible to understand this, though, without first understanding
that strategic debates, within directly democratic movements,
are rarely conducted as strategic debates. They almost always
pretend to be arguments about something else. Take for instance
the question of capitalism. Anticapitalists are usually more
than happy to discuss their position on the subject. Liberals on
the other hand really don’t like being forced to say “actually, I am
in favor of maintaining capitalism in some form or another”’ – so
whenever possible, they try to change the subject. Consequently,
debates that are actually about whether to directly challenge capitalism
usually end up getting argued out as if they were short-term
debates about tactics and non-violence. Authoritarian socialists
or others who are suspicious of democracy are rarely keen on having
to make that an issue either, and prefer to discuss the need to
create the broadest possible coalitions. Those who do support the
principle of direct democracy but feel a group is taking the wrong
strategic direction often find it much more effective to challenge
its decision-making process than to challenge its actual decisions.

He then goes on to point out that here in the U.S., the government can use a war to take the air out of any anti-capitalist movement because all the attention goes to top down anti-war organizations.

As a result SDS had to put aside its early emphasis on
participatory democracy to become an organizer of anti-war protests;
the anti-nuclear movement was obliged to morph into a
nuclear freeze movement; the horizontal structures of DAN and
PGA gave way to top-down mass organizations like ANSWER and
UFPJ. Granted, from the government’s point of view the military
solution does have its risks. The whole thing can blow up in one’s
face, as it did in Vietnam (hence the obsession, at least since the
first Gulf War to design a war that was effectively protest-proof.)

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

The movie "Defiance" comes to mind. Two Russian Jewish brothers go two different ways in WWII. One goes around murdering Nazis and one hides Jews in the mountains and builds a commune.
Watched "Horrible Bosses" this weekend. Three guys decided to kill their bad bosses. They do resort to breaking and entering and into theft. But not keen on the killing part.

My first husband was a Conscientious objector during Vietnam and served two years as a nurse's aid. Wouldn't even pick up a gun. Present husband is a Montana rancher. Needless to say has many guns.
Life is complicated.

ChePasa's picture
Submitted by ChePasa on

And he is not at all afraid of the complexity of living and making revolution. Must be the anthropologist in him!

Meanwhile, in Oakland and beyond, the discussion continues over the merit and value of Black Bloc tactics.

That's just a small part of the discussion going on. But it gives you a snapshot of how diverse opinions about those tactics are and how intense the reaction has been within the Occupy Oakland community.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

What seems to be lacking with the Black Bloc tactics is imagination. Graeber says that the right is destructive and the left is creative. He talks a lot about the influence of feminism and building human capital. Seems like the female commenter over at "Naked Capitalism" who suggested spreading dog poop on bank door knobs and ATMs is working from a more creative imaginative place than the mostly males who throw bricks. I have the last two essays left of Graeber's. Lots to digest. Lots.

ChePasa's picture
Submitted by ChePasa on

They've been doing the same things in same ways since forever. What happened in Oakland was classic Black Bloc. Same exact thing happened in Seattle in 1999.

You're right about the lack of creativity and imagination. When Black Bloc tactics were hinted at, not even proposed, here at the local Occupation, there was a general freak out, because nobody wanted "violence." The people who were hinting at taking the Black Bloc tack denied any intention of committing acts of "violence," but they would engage in disruptive actions, and only those actions which had been pre-approved by the GA.

Some of us knew what the suite of disruptions was likely to include (those hinting wouldn't say in advance what they had in mind), while others were just horrified at the thought of doing anything to cause any more trouble than we were already causing. Vandalism or anything like that was simply out of the question.

So a lot of those who wanted to go Black Bloc headed down to Oakland as a more congenial Occupation to join, many others went to Oakland for General Strike Day, and some got arrested in the police action that night -- even though they said they hadn't done anything to get arrested for. Yes, well.

Finding creative and unexpected means to disrupt the comfort and convenience of the 1% is really needed. Movement practice is becoming pretty regularized -- and it looks like some of the OWS Occupations are even headed toward institutionalization (cf: New York City?). If that happens, it's no longer a revolution; it's not even a revolt any more.

The challenge is clear. And Graeber helps to sort out some of the principles and the options.